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Segregated buses may be off the Israeli agenda, but there's a long way to go for real equality

The name Rosa Parks is one that is forever enshrined in the annals of Afro-American history. She was the courageous woman who refused to give up her seat for a white man on an Alabama bus in December 1955. For her action she was arrested and charged with civil disobedience. The rest, as they say, is history, including a 381-day boycott of the Alabama bus system and the birth of the civil rights movement that brought the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr to prominence.

Sixty years on, the world has been shocked by an incident of no less historical significance; the attempt by Israel's extreme right-wing government to introduce a system of separate Palestinian and Israeli bus travel in the occupied West Bank.

Within 24 hours of tabling the racist initiative, the Israeli government has backed-down. However, the decision taken by the Netanyahu government to suspend what has already been labelled an "apartheid" plan was clearly not because of any moral awakening or scruples; it was largely to reduce the impact of the PR disaster that it has turned out to be.

In an almost literal sense, the affair is turning out to be an own goal for the Israelis because it coincides with a vote at the upcoming FIFA congress where world football's governing body will decide whether or not to suspend Israel because it discriminates against Palestinian footballers in the occupied territories.

As abhorrent and disgusting as discrimination on buses may be, the fact is that prejudice is systemic and institutional in all aspects of Israel society. While Palestinian Arabs have borne the brunt of bigoted policies and practices, non-white Jews have also come to realise that the Zionist promise of an egalitarian and just society was always a farce. Ethiopian Jews who were lured to Israel – again, ostensibly for PR reasons – are now fast realising that they were betrayed and are actually unwanted and unwelcome.

Throughout the near seven decades of its existence Israel has entrenched a system of apartheid that has been carefully disguised; there was never anything benign about it though. It discriminated against Palestinians and denied them access to housing, health, water and education in order to force them off their land. As I write, Palestinians in the villages of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev and Susya in the occupied West Bank are locked in a bitter legal battle to save their villages from demolition. There are other similar examples, too many to mention here. In all such cases, however, the authorities are seeking to dispossess the Palestinians of their land so that more illegal settlements can be built.

Many westerners have throughout this long period failed to grasp the extent to which Israel's apartheid system has developed and matured unchallenged. They failed to look beneath the layers of slick soundbites which conceal the discrimination that lies at the heart of the so-called "Jewish State".

Unfortunately for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he overplayed his hand with the separate bus initiative which has a special resonance in the consciousness of the world community, especially in the United States, from where Israel gets most of its financial, political and military support. Shaken by the international outcry and fearing that it would lead ultimately to a withdrawal of support from the US and EU, he has decided to suspend the planned two-tier bus system.

Of course, there is still a long way to go before any US government contemplates lifting the diplomatic protection and support that is given to Israel. It will, however, come ever closer when the American people wake up to the reality of what is done in the name of democracy in Israel, paid for by their tax dollars.

For now the Netanyahu government will back down and eat humble pie, but that will only be for a limited period. In fact, the multi-layered structures of Israel's apartheid system still remains fixed firmly in place.

The single act of defiance by Rosa Parks in 1955 resulted in much more than a boycott of the Alabama bus system. It also resulted in a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation. Only a similar comprehensive boycott of Israel and Israeli goods by the free people of the world will hasten the end of Israel's apartheid system.

Waiting for governments and the UN to enforce a boycott will be a waste of time and effort. After all, it was the same UN that issued a resolution in 1975 which declared that Zionism is a form of racism akin to apartheid, only to revoke it sixteen years later.

Today, the Palestinian victims of Israeli racism may find some comfort, solace and inspiration in the words of Rosa Parks after she made her defiant stand. "When I made that decision I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me." Like her, the Palestinians have a wealth of illustrious ancestors who resisted and said no to racism. While Netanyahu's half-hearted retreat is welcome and apartheid buses are off the agenda for the time-being, his move comes nowhere near what is required to bring peace, justice and true equality of all kinds to Israel-Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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